‘American Gothic’ Premiere: For Whom the Silver Bells Toll

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Meet the Hawthornes of Boston. They live a typical American dream of a large family, founded on an empire of hard work: In this case, concrete and construction by the Hawthorne patriarch, Mitch. The matriarch, Madeline (Virginia Madsen), is smooth and forever in control, doing whatever she deems necessary with grace and efficiency. The kids are all grown, some with kids of their own, some still trying for that. Allison (Juliet Rylance) has her pretty husband and observant twins girls, but she also has designs on pushing out the current Mayor of Boston and becoming the next one. Tessa (Megan Ketch) seems to be the only real sweet one of the family, which usually indicates a person with some of the darkest skeletons in the closet of all of them. How Tessa kept anything from her police detective husband Brady (Elliot Knight), though, remains to be seen. Cameron (Justin Chatwin) is the recovering drug addict and artist — there’s one in every family like this, of course — whose comics are now syndicated in more than 80 newspapers nationwide. Cam has a son, Jack (Gabriel Bateman), who at the ripe old age of not-yet-hit-puberty, blithely states he wants to become a Medical Examiner when he grows up. And then, there’s the missing one, Garret (Antony Starr), who took a powder fourteen years ago after stating he’d never, ever return to the Hawthornes.

So why are the Hawthornes coming back together? Originally, it was to plan for Allison’s mayoral campaign with her charming and seductive assistant Naomi (Maureen Sebastian). But then, there was an accident involving the collapse of a freeway underpass and, amid the wreckage, evidence of the Silver Bells killer has been discovered. Who is that, we ask? A fine question, and one that seems to be the centerpoint of at least the first season of this new show: Is a member of the Hawthorne family really the Silver Bells murderer? The Patriarch had a freaking heart attack while mayoral incumbent Allison was reassuring the people that the hunt for the Silver Bells killer will continue. While looking for a fix, Cam and Tessa stumbled upon a box that could ruin the lives of all the Hawthornes. The newly returned and very raw Garrett seems suspicious, because his disappearance fourteen years ago coincided with the cessation of all Silver Bells killer activities.

The only reason Cam’s son Jack isn’t immediately in the running for the Silver Bells murderer is that, well, he simply isn’t old enough for that. His natural curiosity and nasty “experiments” don’t have to brand him a serial killer at all of before-puberty, but the show seems to be indicating that the Hawthorne blood will out him at some point, and there might not be anything poor Jack can do about it. One would think his creative father would be better suited to aiding his Norman-Bates-like child, but no, after finding that box Cam dove back into the oblivion of drugs with his wayward wife Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas).

Garrett seems to delight in acting strange, shaving with a hunting knife and sleeping on the floor, as he does. He’s been gone these fourteen years, having sworn to his folks he would never return, but, of course, they don’t say why. The mystery of Garrett, how much he actually knows about the Hawthornes’ buried secrets, and what kind of monsters he has in his own closets, should be an interesting watch.

Virginia Madsen is no stranger to dark entertainment, famous as she is for the likes of Candyman and Witches of East End. To see her playing a character so much like a combination of Madeline Matheson and Pamela Vorhees, especially at the end of the first episode, is a real treat.

The first episode was a slow-ish burn, considering how much information on the Hawthornes’ introduction they had to pack in there, plus attempting to indicate just how long the Silver Bells murders went on and how badly they affected the citizenry. I rather like the idea that this family, who’ve achieved the American Dream though hard work and long hours, who could be any one of us out there watching this show right now, are also potentially full of treacherous lies and murderous secrets. And, like the determined final acts of Madeline Hawthorne, how far would you go, what unthinkable acts would you commit, if it meant saving your family? So many of us harbor the most devastating secrets: John Wayne Gacy was a clown for children’s parties, and Dennis Rader was the Deacon of his local church. You just never know, until it’s far, far too late.

Dig up the Hawthornes’ skeletons Wednesdays on CBS at 10:00 p.m./9:00 p.m., Central!

About the author: Alicia Glass

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